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Satchel Paige’s family reflects on historic merger of baseball records

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Major League Baseball confirmed on Wednesday its merging of historical statistics with the Negro Leagues is complete.

This process has been underway for months. Some have called it a great step toward equality. Others lament it wasn’t done sooner. Wednesday’s news brings a smile to at least one east Kansas City living room.

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“I said to myself, ‘That’s not going to happen in my lifetime,’” Pamela O’Neal said.

O’Neal is the oldest daughter of baseball legend Leroy “Satchel” Paige, one of 3,400 players who competed in the Negro Leagues during a 28-year stretch. Paige, a Kansas City Monarchs legend, is regarded as being one of the greats of the game, and one of many in the Negro Leagues who didn’t receive proper respect for their contributions.

Paige and others were forced to play in the separate league due to racial segregation practices of that era.

“These will be people that will come to life. These are people that will be visible to the world. Young children will not only know the present players, but they will also know the past and about the past,” O’Neal said on Wednesday afternoon.

African-American baseball players weren’t accepted in the majors until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. Dr. Rodney Smith, Vice-President of Access and Engagement at William Jewell College, said moments like this one mirrors celebrations on campus where this school has honored African-American figures from its past.

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“We’ve been saying here on our campus — facts aren’t frightening. They’re simply facts. Now, with MLB adding these stats, they’re just facts.” Dr. Smith said. “This will open up a conversation on players we’ve never heard of.”

Percentages of African-American baseball players have dropped significantly in recent years. Young athletes of color have asked for more opportunities to be included in this sport. In March 2018, the Kansas City Royals helped open the Kansas City Urban Youth Baseball Academy to provide more opportunities for young black players to compete.

Bob Kendrick, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President, has campaigned for years for these players from long ago to be remembered as unsung heroes.

“While American was trying to prevent them from participating in their so-called national pasttime, it was the American spirit that allowed them to persevere and prevail,” Kendrick told reporters on Wednesday morning.

Dr. Harry Edwards, respected American sociologist and civil rights activist, has often spoken out in support of inclusion of the contributions of athletes from the segregation era. Dr. Edwards appeared in Ken Burns’ celebrated “Baseball” series, which became popular on PBS. In a text message to FOX4 News, Dr. Edwards said Major League Baseball was hurting its own legacy by refusing to include records from the Negro Leagues.

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“Bringing some honesty and integrity to the baseball record books by including Negro League records is illuminating and perhaps potentially sufficiently inspirational to reignite some interest in the game  in Black and Brown youth populations,” Dr. Edwards wrote.

Paige’s family members said their only regret about this news is they wish it had arrived at a time when these athletes were still alive. Of the players whose statistics are now recognized, only three of them are still living, most notably, Baseball Hall of Fame Willie Mays, who is now 93 years old.

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